Lead Like a Self-Actualizer


Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a powerful theory of motivation you can use to be a better leader and motivate your team. Most fundamentally, our physical needs for air, water, and food must be met or we will be unhappy and not much later we will die. Once these basic necessities are met, we begin to feel a need for safety, stability, limits, and freedom from chaos. Again, once these requirements are satisfied, we'll want to belong, to feel loved, to give and receive affection.  Next comes our need for competence and mastery of a set of skills–the basis for our self-confidence.

Even after all these needs are met, we have one more–self-actualization–"to become everything that one is capable of becoming."

Maslow describes his passion for these positive aspects of psychology and human motivation in his book, Motivation and Personality (yes, it's a little expensive, but worth it):

The study of [self-actualizing people] is unusual in various ways. It was not planned as an ordinary research; it was not a social venture, but a private one, motivated by my own curiosity... I sought only to convince myself and to teach myself rather than prove or to demonstrate to others.

(It sounds like he self-actualized himself to his study of self-actualization.)

Maslow's passionate study reveals that self-actualizers have several critical characteristics, including:

  • Clear perception of reality. They are able to "detect the spurious, the fake, and dishonesty" in individuals, in science, and politics.
  • No fear of the unknown. They do not "cling to the familiar", nor do they seek for certainty in all they do.
  • Accept human nature and all its short-comings. They see their own and others foibles and faults with understanding and respect. They aren't self-satisified as much as they are compassionate to themselves and others.
  • Think and act with spontaneity. They are not mired by convention. Their words and deeds are marked by authenticity and creativity.
  • Focused on opportunities to make a difference, not themselves. They seeks to make the world a better place for others.
  • Filled with gratitude for the simple things in life. They regularly find themselves filled with awe at things others may see as common place.

Where are you and your team in Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Your ability to inspire and motivate them is large part based on your understanding of their unmet needs.

If you don't create environment where your team feels safe, their ability to contribute will be limited. If you don't foster skill development and mastery, becoming what we are capable of will remain a distant shore. Now consider how much more productive and focused your team will be as they become more self-actualized.

Take Action: Determine your next step and do it–now!